I have heard that you can’t truly appreciate living in a Latin American country until you learn to do the Latin dances. I’ve been living in Costa Rica for eleven months, and I decided it was time to tackle this artful, yet athletic, activity.

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No sooner had I decided to learn how to dance Latin style than I saw a notice for Clases de Baile Popular, popular dance classes. These classes are offered at a gym* right here in downtown Santa Ana five nights a week and Saturday mornings. I was told that for about $28 a month, I could take three lessons a week.

I got dressed up, slapped on some lipstick, put my feet into a pair of heels that I save for special occasions, and took myself to a sample dance class. Erika Lopez Jimenez, the teacher and a former national champion of salsa, is a cute young thing with great moves.

She knew enough English to be able to communicate with me. There were only two other students in the class, a young Tico man and woman dressed in sweats and sneakers who were working on a complicated cha-cha-cha dance routine.

For the first 40 minutes I was thinking, I’m old enough to be these kids’ mother, I’m the only Gringa here, I have no partner, I’m overdressed and my feet are killing me. Then the teacher brought in a partner for me from the gym, William, who spoke very good English.

We danced the merengue and did all kinds of fancy steps. What fun! He and the teacher were impressed that I caught on so quickly, but I think I looked good because William was an excellent leader. I was thrilled to learn that my hips can really move! Erika promised that she would have a dance partner for me every night if I signed up for lessons, so I did.

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The next night I dressed in shorts and a t-shirt and wore my sneakers. My feet were much happier. Usually during each lesson, Erika teaches basic and choreographed steps for a few different dances. While the merengue was lots of fun the first night, the next night we focused on the salsa.

My feet could not feel the rhythm of the music. I felt physically dyslexic, almost spastic. Usually I have good rhythm, and I love to dance American style, but damned if my feet didn’t move to a different beat than the salsa music. It didn’t help that my partner was tall and when he ducked to stay in contact with my hand as he turned, we got out of sync. The trials and tribulations of learning Latin dancing.

In class three, the tall guy was gone and there were three young people, the couple from the first night and an additional man. One of the men was assigned to dance with me, and I could tell he was less than thrilled. I mean, who would want to learn to dance with his mother?

But we sort of clicked in an awkward, stepping-on-each-others’-feet kind of way. We struggled through the bolero, and whenever we danced a few consecutive steps correctly, we grinned at each other.

Erika is a very good teacher: she works with us individually and with us as a pair. If we have trouble following her instructions, she breaks them down into a couple of steps at a time until we get it. She repeats the basic steps of each dance until we’ve got them down cold, then she introduces more complicated steps.

That night we also learned the basic steps of the cumbia. And finally, we started in on swing criollo, the native Costa Rican dance that’s a cross between skipping and the jitterbug.

In addition to learning how to dance, I’m gaining confidence in my moves. By the time you read this, I’ll be ready to go to a dance club. All I’ll need is a short dance partner who’s a strong leader.

Written by VIP Member Margie Davis.

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